Photo: KP Tripathi (flickr)
The shutdown of the federal government prompted Indiana leaders to step in this week to cover some of the feds’ costs with state funds, causing strain on the state’s budget that Hoosier lawmakers say can’t last for long.
The state is spending $33,000 per day to pay 244 National Guard state employees who are typically reimbursed through the federal government, but Governor Mike Pence’s office has only promised to do so until next Tuesday. Then, the state will reassess whether it has enough money to keep doing so.
Indiana is also able to pay for some federal services such as the Women, Infants and Children nutrition program, but only for about another month.
Congressional Republicans, including U.S. Rep. Todd Young, R-9th, have advocated for passing budget bills to fund individual government programs on a piecemeal basis — including the Women, Infants and Children nutrition program — until a comprehensive agreement can be reached.
“It’s time for the Senate to come to the negotiating table, work with the House to responsibly solve our government funding stalemate, and build on this evening’s incremental agreements to reach a consensus on a longer-term funding package,” Young said in a statement this week.
That’s not to mention the problems larger federal organizations will encounter if the shutdown continues.
“Everything will become more difficult — running the Defense Department, running the FBI — because you’re dealing with problems that accumulate during a shutdown,” says Lee Hamilton, a former U.S. Representative who now directs The Center on Congress at Indiana University.
Federal Workers Feel Shutdown’s Immediate Impact
Then, there are the federal workers who are out of jobs.
On Monday, the office at the National Guard headquarters was full of workers. Tuesday many of the desks say empty. About 1,000 federal technicians had been sent home because of the government shutdown.
“I’ve been locked out of my job I cannot perform my job. I cannot volunteer to do my job,” says Sgt. 1st Class Jeff Lowry, a public affairs specialist, said Tuesday morning before he left the National Guard headquarters in Indianapolis.
Lowry and his coworkers were given four hours Tuesday to clean out their emails and cancel any meetings.
“I’m going to look for another job,” Lowry said. “There are things I need to do to provide for myself and my family, and that’s what I’m going to have to do.”
This is the second time this year Lowry has been furloughed. He had to take off six days between July and August because of sequestration.
“That didn’t affect me too much. I was still to drill on weekends, so I was able to supplement my income that way. This is going to be a harder hit because this is going to be 0 percent income,” he said.
There is a specific process in place to determine who gets to keep their jobs and who doesn’t during a government shutdown.
“All the units within the Indiana National Guard and all the directors are required to determine what is mission essential and what is required to be done and of course we’ll do our best to fill those gaps without those federal technicians within our folds,” Indiana National Guard spokeswoman Lt. Col. Cathy Van Bree said.
In other words, the National Guard had to decide who were essential. Those who were not were furloughed.
There are 22,000 federal employees in Indiana, and all federal departments had to go through the same process to determine who got to keep their job and who didn’t.
Many of those workers are already applying for unemployment benefits. As of Wednesday, about 800 had done so.
Are Self-Made Crises Becoming More Common?
“I think the Hoosier voter should be outraged,” Hamilton said. “This is not the way a great government conducts itself.”
Hamiton was a congressman the last time the federal government shutdown in 1995 and 1996.
“Back in the ‘80s and the ‘90s a long time ago, you would have an occasional crisis come along and a government shutdown occurred. Here, we’re dealing with it all the time. If we solve this problem. We’ve got two weeks from now with a debt ceiling increase.”
Hamilton says Indiana’s Congressional delegation has spent too much time bickering instead of trying to come to a solution. He says until they stop trying to assign blame, things are likely going to get worse.